How will an alarm system help me?
March 9, 2008 8:52 AM   Subscribe

Purchasing a condo - does an alarm system make sense?

I am buying a condo in downtown Chicago. I saw that one of the other units on my floor has an ADT sticker on their door. Does it make sense to buy an alarm system? What would it do that a deadbolt couldn't for my condo?

I guess I just don't understand what an alarm system can do for me - I will be on the 16th floor of a building with balconies (maybe it will alarm the windows/balconies? How can someone get up 16 floors?). It's a relatively new building (2001) and the doors have deadbolts which of course I will use. It's in a good neighborhood (River North) but I do live alone. I live in the same neighborhood now and just use my deadbolt - hadn't occured to me to get an alarm system until I saw the sticker!

I do have a cat - would motion sensors even be relevant?

Thanks for your help!
posted by MeetMegan to Home & Garden (17 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You might want to check with your insurer. Having an alarm system can reduce your homeowner insurance premium.

You can also ask whether there ever have been burglaries in building. As you say, it doesn't seem likely, but some burglars are pretty bold and resourceful.

Another thing to think about is the fire (smoke) alarm that comes with the alarm system, but I imagine your building already has an integrated fire alarm system.
posted by bluefrog at 9:03 AM on March 9, 2008

And by the way, being in a good neighborhood might be a liability rather than a plus. Unsurprisingly, serious burglars prefer more affluent areas (I remember reading somewhere that a rise in burglary rates is a sure sign that a neighborhood is on the rise in socio-economic terms).
posted by bluefrog at 9:08 AM on March 9, 2008

(some people have alarm stickers but no alarm installed)
posted by birdherder at 9:25 AM on March 9, 2008

I recommend against getting one. Studies have been done that conclude that home security systems are more often than not set off accidentally, which is a huge drain on public resources (i.e. the police must respond when the system is tripped). And on a personal note, I believe it would totally increase the level of paranoia in my life having to set and de-activate the thing every time I came and went. Besides, rates of burglaries have decreased over the last few decades. Although I don't know anything about your neighborhood, I think being on the 16th floor is protection enough.
posted by crunchtopmuffin at 9:33 AM on March 9, 2008

having been broken into wit a local alarm (does not notify police). I was glad that i had it as the bastards did what most burglars do; they broke an unalarmed window to get in, then immediately tried to find a second means of egress, thus tripping an alarmed door. They left fast, leaving a video camera and ipod untouched that i had on the kitchen table. That said i upgraded to a monitored system because i walked into a house that could have been infested with n'er do wells. At least with monitoring the cops will be called. Also I save 15% on my insurance which covers most of the cost of monitoring.
posted by Gungho at 9:57 AM on March 9, 2008

"... (i.e. the police must respond when the system is tripped)."

Most of the time the alarm reports to an alarm company, not the police. The police don't respond until the alarm company verifies the alarm and calls the police on your behalf. Many police departments specifically prohibit having alarm systems that report directly to them, chiefly because of the false alarm problem.

Our alarm company sends out a private security guard if the alarm gets tripped. The police are only called if the guard finds that the house has been broken into.

Alarms actually do very little to address a break-in that's already taken place. What they tend to do is deter a burglar from bothering with your place, preferring instead to go elsewhere. This is the reason that lawn signs and window stickers can have a similar effect.

I have an alarm system, but we have a house rather than a condo. Mainly the alarm system is in place to let us know that something has happened if we're away for a long time. It also gives us peace of mind knowing that the smoke detectors are wired into the alarm system, meaning the fire department will respond far quicker than if we had to rely on neighbours seeing smoke coming out of the roof.

If you're in a condo, I don't see the real benefit of an alarm system. Get the stickers and use a good deadbolt, and you should be just fine.

Bluefrog: Burglary rates actually tend to be higher in poorer areas. As a rule, criminals commit crimes near where they live and work, which tends to be the lower-end neighbourhoods. Break-ins in high-end condo developments are relatively rare, chiefly because it's very difficult to access the dwelling-unit. Detached homes are much easier to break into since a burglar can just smash a window.
posted by gwenzel at 9:59 AM on March 9, 2008

Playing devil's advocate, if I were a burglar, a 16-story condo complex might be a ripe target. With such a big place, I'd probably blend in. If I was particularly resourceful (although most criminals don't seem to be), I could find a cover: we had Jehovah's Witnesses come to our house today, in fact. Or I could be the cable guy coming to repair your faulty cable lookup. Of course, I wouldn't want to go for a very forced entry, which would probably call tons of attention to myself.

"some people have alarm stickers but no alarm installed" is an excellent point, and it's quite possibly effective. If I'm the faux cable guy canvassing the complex for open places, I'll probably skip past your door. (On the other hand, I suppose it'd also tip me off that, for one reason or another, you were more paranoid about the others about protecting your stuff, so maybe you've got something really good.)

"The police don't respond until the alarm company verifies the alarm and calls the police on your behalf."

Even then, the false alarm rate is high. All that protects against is, "Whoops, I set it off coming in." We ended up canceling the monitoring on ours after a string of false alarms. One time our cleaning lady set it off, another time the front door apparently didn't quite latch shut, causing it to blow open when we were all at work... And so forth. We weren't home to answer on any of those, so they all caused a police response. The police department starts charging after a certain number of false activations.

I think a deadbolt's all you'll need though. Anyone brazen enough to smash down your door probably wouldn't be phased by an alarm, either.

I do have a cat - would motion sensors even be relevant?

Somehow, they apparently work even with pets. We had a dog and no problems with motion sensors. How it differentiates between our dog and a clever burglar crawling on all fours, I have no idea.
posted by fogster at 10:50 AM on March 9, 2008

Most new motion detectors won't be tripped by a pet weighing under 40 lbs. We have 2 cats and they do not trip our motion detector.

Honestly, I like having an alarm system in our house as my husband often travels for business and I get creeped out being totally alone. We usually only set the alarm when we are away for vacation or when I am home alone, and it gives me some peace of mind in both situations.
posted by tastybrains at 11:08 AM on March 9, 2008

Check and make sure the HOA doesn't prohibit those metal yard signs...our HOA does. Window stickers shouldnt be a problem though. Our middle of the road townhome came prewired for security systems at no charge, so I would guess if you were looking for a deterrent, you could see if you could find a fake sticker and then the little sensors would be on the windows if the theif inspected anything closer.

I think in
posted by johngalt at 11:49 AM on March 9, 2008

16-story condo complex might be a ripe target.

You've obviously never done this for a living.

A 16-story condo means a single exit. One. That exit, by the way, is not the front fucking door. Why? Because a 16-story condo's front entrance will either have a security guard, or a security camera. So, one back entrance. That entrance likely has an alarm on it, or at the very least, a camera. Now, if, while robbing said condo, anyone comes through their front-door, you will either have to confront them and scare them badly enough that they don't raise hell while you: 1. Wait for the elevator, 2. Take the elevator down the stairs, 3. Leave.; or you will have to tie them up (big penalties if caught); or you will have to take them hostage (bigger penalties if caught); or you will have to kill them (much, much bigger penalties if caught).

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that you know you won't be interrupted. Maybe you've got someone tailing the owners. Fine.

So, you walk around the place. See what's available. Oh look, a lovely 60-inch plasma television set. Now, how to fuck do you just casually exit a 16-bloody-story condo with one of those? Multiply that times every large piece of merchandise you want to grab. And what... you gonna take the elevator with that 100-pound monstrosity? HA. How 'bout the stairs? Hope you're in good shape... it would be a shame to go through all that trouble just to have the paramedics resuscitate your heart-attacked-ass under the supervision of a few police officers. And hope no other tenants are using that stairwell while you're going up and down.

Plus about a hundred other reasons.

Anyway, to address the OP:

It would make sense to get an alarm that makes a loud noise. An alarm that calls the alarm company, who then call the police, who then respond to the call... that's a lot of maybe's. And at the end of the day, you'll still get robbed. The only thing the alarm does--effectively--is scare away the kiddies, and notify your neighbors.

Oh, and advertise the fact that you've got stuff inside worth stealing.

Do what the fabulously wealthy do: make it someone else's problem. Specifically, an insurance company. That, a deadbolt and a loud alarm on the glass balcony door will do you fine.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:12 PM on March 9, 2008

You might be better to invest in locks and even a better door (if allowed). Did you change the lock when you moved in? And is it a good lock? You can change the tumbler yourself -- it costs about $10. No need to pay a locksmith $100. My locksmith (from whom I bought the tumbler, since I did it myself) said that most break-ins to higher-end condos are because people have not changed the lock or because they have a really cheap lock.
posted by acoutu at 2:13 PM on March 9, 2008

I'm with Acoutu - At the least, get a lock of a major brand other than what the condo installs, preferably with spool or Bump Stop pins if you're feeling paranoid. At that point, I'd think you're covered for 99% of what an alarm could have stopped.
posted by Orb2069 at 2:56 PM on March 9, 2008

I also live in River North, but in a townhouse. LOVE my ADT alarm. I did not have one when I lived in a Lincoln Park Highrise, however. Here are some features of the alarm (at least with ADT) that you might like: You will be issued a "phony" alarm code that turns off the alarm but instantly calls the police (bypassing the alarm company) if activated. This would be used if someone came up to you with a gun when you were walking in your unit and told you to turn off the alarm. You'd use this "phony" code to turn off the alarm rather than your normal code, therefore the alarm seems to deactivate off and the perpetrator does not get suspicious that in fact you just called for help.. There is also a "panic" button which immediatly calls fire or police. I have a friend who lived around Diversey and Clark and left her apt. door unlocked when she went to the building's laundry room. She came back and someone was inside who tied her up, robbed her, and told her to count to 500 outloud before trying to move. Luckily she was just robbed. High rise buildings are not inpenetrable . Finally, if you have a cleaning lady, building engineers, or other workmen to whom you give access when you are not home, I think it is good that they see you have an alarm and therefore assume that you will be using that alarm on days when they do NOT have permission to access your unit. You are probably much safer in a condo than in a free standing house, but for peace of mind, alarm systems are great.
posted by Lylo at 2:58 PM on March 9, 2008

Statistically. Americans spend much more money on alarm systems than they lose in burglaries, which seems a misapplication of resources, an investment in peace of mind that far outweighs the cost of crime. You're better off investing in a floor safe for your real valuables and good insurance for anything that can be replaced. It will be much cheaper in the long run.
posted by Astro Zombie at 4:11 PM on March 9, 2008

Unfortunately, this is something we recently had to deal with around here. We just got an alarm. We were, prior to this, of the "an alarm sticker should do the job without the actual alarm" thought, as were our neighbor friends two doors down from us.

Our rather quiet, and until recently safe, 99% owner occupied townhouse complex (full of people who work all day and thus are away from the house) recently dealt with a burglary in the middle of the night, and 2 weeks later, a determined and brazen attempt at a B&E during the day at our friends' home, two doors down from us (who had ADT stickers on their windows).

Because we're 99.999% sure it's the asshole do-nothing-all-day-renting punkass teenagers three doors down from us, because I can't work from home everyday to ensure they aren't getting into trouble all the time, because I didn't feel safe and as such, was driving Mr. JG absolutely fucking nuts, we got a central alarm with a glass break detector through a local reputable company. I checked AskMe before I did, negotiated a cheaper and shorter contract and got labor waived because our neighbor was getting it done on the same day. I'm not delighted about having the alarm, but i felt vulnerable and I didn't like it. Because I value having some sanity while I am asleep and away from the house and because I like a good night's rest, we have an alarm.

Before you jump into an alarm, do take those extra security precautions like changing locks, getting bigger/better locks, and get to know your neighbors. Talk to your neighbor with the sticker on their door, introduce yourself, identify the unit you are in, tell them that you are new and you had a few questions about the building if they have a moment. Say you noticed their ADT sticker and ask if there has been crime in the building. Do what you need to in order to feel safe. I'd still be standing by my ebay purchased ADT stickers if it wasn't for the asshole do-nothings.
posted by jerseygirl at 6:30 PM on March 9, 2008

Everyone I know who has a condo with an alarm system never uses the alarm system. Ever.
posted by chunking express at 7:14 PM on March 11, 2008

It seems inconceivable that someone could rob an upper-story condo building and walk away with a 60-inch plasma TV... except that very thing happened to a friend of mine around the Roosevelt & State area. They also took his computer (including monitor!), jewelry, and other stuff.

We still don't know how it was done, except they obviously walked out the front door or the emergency exit. While there is no 24 hour doorman, it still takes some balls to stride out of the building carrying these things. I don't know if they dressed as movers or what, but it happened.

Also, in response to some of the disbelievers, don't discount the possibility of theft from another owner/tenant inside the building. Seems like a stupid risk... but it happens. A loud alarm would embarrass the neighbor quite nicely.
posted by bdizzy at 9:32 AM on March 19, 2008

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